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Wednesday, 23 December 2020

2020 Favourites: Books, Podcasts, TV - and Link Up

Is This Mutton blogger Gail Hanlon in festive reindeer jumper as she lists her favourite TV shows, books and podcasts for 2020

It's been a grim and tumultuous few days in the UK. We are now "Plague Island", banned from going to more than 40 other countries. In tier 4, London and the South East, where I live, Christmas plans are in tatters after the government banned the mixing of households, late last week.  We're told to stay at home. So with that in mind, we'll be holed up watching TV and reading. Here are my 2020 favorites for TV, podcasts and books. Plus there's a look ahead to what's coming in 2021.

TV FAVORITES

One of the best things about TV in 2020 was the range of broadcasting available from other countries. This was essential with so many productions slowing to a halt because of filming restrictions.  I loved some of the quality programmes from Scandinavia and France.

Borgen (Netflix)

Chez Mutton we particularly enjoyed discovering some of the garlanded Scandinavian TV dramas, notably Borgen. Who would have thought Danish political life could be so thrilling?  Superb acting, story lines and production makes this a real winner.  Netflix has commissioned a fourth series which will be fascinating, as there will have been quite a big gap between seasons three and four.

Call My Agent  (Netflix)

I was genuinely gutted when this comedy finished because it was such an invigorating little shot in the arm. Life at a French casting agency, with some very big French stars appearing as themselves. 

Home for Christmas (Netflix)

Here's a seasonal recommendation.  I don't normally like Christmas films and programs, making an exception for Love Actually, because they're too schmaltzy. This Norwegian comedy drama is mostly gentle with occasional bite, and plenty of wry observations. 

The Fall  (BBC, available on Netflix)

We had somehow never seem this but loved the cat and mouse games between Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) and serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). 

The Last Kingdom (Netflix)

This was our Game of Thrones fix after the final episode, as it certainly has the requisite fight scenes, drama and costumes. Series 1 is a bit low budget but it soon picks up. The drama covers the Viking invasions of Britain and the Saxons' attempts to win back their kingdoms. At the centre of the drama is Uhtred of Bebbanburg who has a foot in both camps, having been born a Saxon and kidnapped as a child by the Vikings.  

Normal People (BBC)

One of the big hits of 2020 making stars of Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. The shifting fortunes of a relationship between two young people, noted for its sensitivity and reality.

The Queen's Gambit (Netflix)

By the time this came out we were all getting a bit desperate for another quality drama so I think it received perhaps more universal acclaim than it deserved. True, the costumes and performances, and the uplifting ending, are fantastic. But I found myself pondering for a long time the question of why the chess playing heroine inspired such devotion from her friends when she gave so little in return.

The Morning Show (Apple TV)

Apple's big blockbuster series with Jenifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. A bit over the top in terms of acting but the stars seemed to be having fun. An enjoyable romp.

Family celebrating Christmas. Photo by Nicole Michalou from Pexels

Unorthodox  (Netflix)

A glimpse into a community seldom seen on TV, and beautifully done. Based on a true story, Unorthodox is the story of a young woman, Esty, who flees life in the Hasidic Jewish community in New York for Berlin, where she starts a new life. 

Our Yorkshire Farm (Channel 5)

We love the Yorkshire shepherdess Amanda Owen and this boisterous series about life at her family's farm where there are nine kids and hundreds of animals. Uplifting. 

Emily in Paris (Netflix)

In an ordinary year, an amusing little trifle;  in 2020 it came along at exactly the right time and was a refreshing shot in the arm.  Frothy nonsense with no real character development, but fun nonetheless. Paris has never looked more beautiful. 

Win the Wilderness (BBC2)

The outcome to this strange little series has been more engrossing than the actual show.  At the start of the year we saw several British couples competing for the chance to win a wilderness home on Ose Mountain in the wilds of Alaska. The series ended with Mark and Emily winning the house and elderly owners Duane and Rena Ose planning to relocate to somewhere warmer. But it later transpired that after Rena died, Duane married again and was determined not to give up the home he built. A rescue helicopter was called in amid reports that Duane, 78,  had broken his back. He was taken to hospital but later released after suffering from a bladder infection and dehydration. It seems as if he has given up his claim to Ose Mountain. 

TV And Films That Didn't Float My Boat

Little Fires Everywhere (Prime): Slow. 

The Undoing: yes the coats were wonderful but in each episode there were several minutes of boredom and a feeling "will this ever end?"  

Reboot of All Creatures Great and Small (Channel 5). It's had excellent reviews but I had too much invested emotionally in the original series for this to work. Find the original series on YouTube.

1917: unusual take on the First World War but lacked emotional heft and firepower.

What's New for December and 2021

One to Miss

The Wilds (Sky): interesting premise: a group of teenage girls crash land on a remote island. But it's very patchy with limited tension or hooks. 

I Have Sore Misgivings

The big Christmas Day newbie on Netflix is Bridgerton from Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy). I'm in a minority on this but I loathe dramas where the ladies wear poke bonnets. Anything vaguely Jane Austen and I'm outta here. If Mr Mutton insists I'll give it a try #openminded

I'm also a bit lukewarm about the prospect of Midnight Sky (Netflix), George Clooney's directorial debut. Normally I love films about space and aliens but this one has had poor reviews.  Clooney is a scientist trying to warn astronauts returning to Earth of a mysterious global catastrophe.

I'm Looking Forward to.....

Motherland Christmas Special (BBC2 and iPlayer) - I love this spin on motherhood where the mothers (and a stay-at-home dad) are the stars and the children are an inconvenience. 

The Killing:  I mentioned in a previous Friday Favourites that I was longing to see The Killing, the crime drama that launched the Scandi Noir phenomenon.  Well, The Killing is back! Sky and Apple TV. 

Mank (Netflix): David Fincher re-evaluates 1930s Hollywood through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish "Citizen Kane." Starring Gary Oldman, Lily Collins, Amanda Seyfried
Behind Her Eyes: Thriller from the studio behind The Crown (Left Bank Pictures). Landing in 2021, a new psychological thriller limited series which features the talents of Simona Brown, Eve Hewson, and Tom Bateman.

Halston: biopic starring Ewan McGregor documenting the rise of the fashion designer Halston. Ten episodes are set to release at some point in 2021 with filming having started in November 2020.

Favourite Podcasts


Fortunately with Fi and Jane: laugh out loud observations from UK broadcasters Jane Garvey and Fi Glover, who belie the notion that there's no humour in the lives of middle aged women. Each podcast features a guest and some of the questions (and answers) are riveting. Latest guests include Dawn French, writers Robert Harris and Maggie O'Farrell and Bananarama besties Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin, who rendered Fi and Jane a bit star struck -  they were both fans in the 80s.

The Dating Game Killer (Wondery): In 1978, Rodney Alcala won a date on the popular TV show, The Dating Game. What no one knew was that he was a prolific serial killer in the middle of a cross-country murder spree. 

The Man in the Window:  in a similar vein is this fascinating series about the serial killer known as the East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer, Joseph DeAngelo, who committed at least 13 murders, 50 rapes, and 120 burglaries in a spree that was eventually detected thanks to painstaking research on a family tree DNA website. 

Tracks  (BBC Radio 4):  The final series of the ambitious drama by Matthew Broughton which started in 2016. 

My Favourite Books in 2021

I had to look at Amazon to see all my Kindle purchases - a sobering experience! I read a lot of books but in the main I wanted light reading, nothing too deep, so I didn't read too many literary novels. Mybad. 

Fiction
Monogamy - Sue Miller:  A haunting meditation on love, marriage, fidelity, betrayal, and loss
Queen Bee, Jane Fallon: shenanigans when a woman upsets the "Queen Bee" of an exclusive gated community
Queenie - Candice Carty-Williams: outstanding debut and a strong young woman heroine for our times
Playdate - Alex Dahl: lots of twists and turns when a little girl goes missing
Small Pleasures - Clare Chambers: set in the 1950s, a story aching with things never said and loss

Non-Fiction:
Me, Elton John - autobiography: surprisingly open, full of anecdotes and humour 
Rosemary, the hidden Kennedy daughter - Kate Clifford Larson 
Unnatural Causes - Dr Richard Shepherd: the recollections of a Home Office pathologist

Love to know what your favourites were, and if you disagree with any of my misses! Let us know in the comments. 

There's a final post for 2020 next Wednesday when I unveil the 2021 Is This Mutton annual survey, and there will be a last #WowOnWednesday link up for anyone with posts to share. Hope to see you then! In the meantime, have a safe and Happy Christmas. Happy holidays!

Sharing with  Fabulous Fridays at Lucy Bertoldi,  #iwillwearwhatilike at Not Dressed as Lamb,  Shelbee on the Edge Turning Heads at Elegantly Dressed and Stylish, ChicandStylish at Mummabstylish, Stylewithasmile at Stylesplash,  Topoftheworldstyle at High Latitude Style, Confident Twosday at IDoDeclaire,  Curated by Jennifer 
Now it's time for #WowOnWednesday, the link-up where bloggers find new readers, and readers find new blogs to read! 

Last Week's Readers' Favourites - Most Clicked 

Shauna from Lipgloss and Lace with her post "Holiday Essentials." How gorgeous does she look in these tartan (plaid) pants?
Penny from Frugal Fashion Shopper with her post "What are you wearing for Christmas?" Now that it's just the two of us, probably a Christmas jumper and jeans for me  (although I won't wear the jumper during the cooking). Penny showed us some options and explained her rationale. 
My favourite non-fashion post: "Boho Sustainable Fashion Brands" by Jennifer at Curated by Jennifer. She put a lot of work into bringing us an exciting range of brands.  I've been more committed this year to avoiding fast fashion and trying to buy from smaller independent brands.  More on this in 2021.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


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1 comment

  1. I saw the cues in Dover, horrible. And on the other site it hurts my heart to see Dover. I want to go to the UK so badly.... I'm so looking forward to watch Motherland!! What a brilliant series that is! Merry Christmas Gail!

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